By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For a wrestling program that has won nine state championships (eight outright) in the past 11 seasons in Class 3, it stands to reason the Neosho Wildcats will be pretty talented again.
Among the returners this year are state champions Cayden Auch, Jeremiah Larson and Drayke Perry as well as three state medalists in Landon Kivett, Eric Holt and Raymond Hembree.
Auch is a three-time state champion, having won the 152-pound weight class last February, and is seeking to become Neosho’s first four-time state champion. He has committed to the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Last season, Larson won it at 182 and Perry at 220. Kivett has placed fourth and sixth, respectively. Holt was fifth two seasons ago. Hembree was a state runner-up as a freshman last year.
Seniors are Auch, Kivett, Larson, Perry, Holt, Jacob Fry and Hunter Morales.
Juniors listed on the roster are Nate Copeland, Hayden Crane, Cade Daniel, Trent Neece, Gabriel Selby, Jeremiah Kincaid, Jose Sanchez, Evan Haskins, Wyatt Shadwick and Talon Mitchell. Crane qualified for the state tournament in 2019.
Sophomores are Eli Zar, Hembree, Collyn Kivett, Gabe Mabrey, Noah Quillman, Landon Stephans, Colton Burr, Ulysses Deleon, Austin Holloway, Arturo Lopez and Wyatt Mermis.
Freshmen are Ralph Robles, Wyatt Black, Will Meyer, Tanner Young, Selany Tither, Wyatt Friend, Dylan Stephens, Carter Watson, Jonny Chrisco, Corbin Goins, Jack Lankford, Pablo Pastor, Lukas Pooler, Denver Washington, Aly Tevebaugh, Edwin Martinez, Noah Lawson and Isaac Lopez.
Neosho High School wrestling coach Jeremy Phillips is reluctant to name any wrestler in any weight class for this season, explaining that several likely have added weight considerably.
That said, he hopes the wrestling season can reach the final whistle at the state tournament, considering the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.
“I hope for our sport and, more importantly, for the kids who love our sport – everyone is able to stay healthy and compete,” Phillips said. “I just want to be able to see all kids passionate about the sport not have something taken away from them.”
The Wildcats are still soldiering on through notable tournaments, although even those have been reduced in size or eliminated altogether. The Kansas City Stampede has been canceled. That was a 40-team event. Likewise, a tournament in Granite City, Ill., has been canceled, and that was a strong tournament right after Christmas.
Neosho is heading to an eight-team Smithville tournament on Dec. 19, with five of the top six teams from last season’s Class 3 state tournament attending – the others being Lebanon (runner-up), third-place Kearney (a multiple state champion), fourth-place Smithville and sixth-place Farmington. Class 1 state champion Whitfield also will be there.
The team also will compete in a Branson tournament, but that also has been reduced to eight teams.
“(The tournaments) were an opportunity for us to get beat,” Phillips said, explaining the tournaments readied the Wildcats for the postseason.
“I’m excited,” Phillips added. “The competition in the room will be pretty tough. Some guys are going to say, ‘This is my spot.’ Others will have to shuffle.”
Neosho hopes to field a girls team. Jamie Patterson, Kaylee Schibi, Morgan Wirth, Konie Ramei and Erika Ramirez are listed on the roster.